It is no stretch to say the New York Red Bulls have one of the best development academies in the country. Currently each team under the academy umbrella is ranked in the top 2 in the nation, and perennially rank among the elite development teams in the U.S. The academy has been run by Bob Montgomery since September, 2007, and in that time span has won three national championships: 2009 Super Y U20, 2012 USDA U16, and 2013 USDA U18.
With the help of the New York Red Bulls, Once a Metro was able to interview Montgomery over email to ask about the challenges of player development, how the academy prepares its talents for the senior team, what he looks for in prospects, and a variety of other subjects.
The interview is presented here in full, with thanks to Mr. Montgomery and RBNY for their time and cooperation:
Once a Metro: How has the academy changed in the seven years you have been in charge? Has changed to the league impacted the academy in many ways?
Bob Montgomery: The academy has definitely grown over the last seven years. The Red Bulls Academy has become recognized as the elite youth development academy in the tri-state area. Our teams are consistently ranked in the top five in the nation for their age groups. (Currently, the Red Bulls Academy teams are all ranked first or second nationally in their age groups.) We have player representation at all age level of the youth national teams.
OaM: What is the biggest challenge the academy faces when trying to bridge the gap between the u18 team and the MLS first team?
BM: The challenge has always been getting players meaningful minutes, and having a platform for them after they turn 18. Most 18-year-olds are not ready for regular playing time in MLS. That issue is now being addressed with the USL partnership. The creation of NYRB II gives Red Bulls players a chance to play competitive games and continue their development in our environment, with the resources and coaching of our organization, which we believe are top-level.
Our U-23 team has also made the switch to the PDL league after winning the NPSL last summer.
OaM: A lot of Academies try to style themselves as the "American La Masia." Is there any foreign Academy you respect or attempt to emulate on some level?
BM: There are always programs that you visit and try to take little things from. We have been growing our relationships with Red Bull Salzburg, Leipzig, and Brazil, and are in line with the same philosophy and playing style.
OaM: Has the shift in the US U-20 pool from using college players to relying on players at professional clubs or Academies affected how you advise and retain players? Has it shifted your goals as a club?
BM: We advise all of our players individually, in order to work with the player and their family to make the best decision for them. For some players it makes sense to go to college, and for some it makes sense to be in a professional soccer environment. We always try to do what is best for a player to ensure their growth both as a soccer player and as a person.
OaM: What do you look for when scouting a youth prospect?
BM: The qualities that we value are technique, first touch, game awareness and hard work. These are some things we can see. The next quality, which is equally if not more important, is to try to find out the player’s mindset. Attitude is a key ingredient for success.
OaM: Are there skills - like first touch or passing - you find academy entrants are generally good at on arrival? And if so, what are the skills that usually need the most work for players joining the academy?
BM: Most of our kids, when they come to the academy, have good all-around skill. We continue to provide that skill work while adding in tactical awareness and teaching our players how to play together.
OaM: How do you balance developing individual skills with teamwork and tactical understanding? Are the "best" players in the academy the most individually gifted, or those who fit best into the coaching ethic of the academy? Or both?
BM: Developing individual skill is a life-long process. A lot of our players were the best on their previous teams. Once they start playing against better competition, they need to learn to play with each other, learn to work together. Every player is different. As we continue to define our style of play throughout the organization, we are teaching our academy players the same tactics.
OaM: Have there been any discussions about the creation of a residential academy or a school so you have more time with the players?
BM: We are always looking at furthering our programs, keeping in mind what is best for both the organization and our players.
OaM: What are your feelings on players who train/trial with overseas academies? Is there a policy with these players?
BM: We have in the past provided players with opportunities to trial or play overseas. We have players who have gone to spend time in Salburz, Leipzig and Brazil, the way Matt Miazga did during preseason.
OaM: Is the academy system capable of signing players from outside the U.S.? Or are there limitations on your ability to bring in players from outside the club’s traditional boundaries?
BM: No. We are not able to bring in players from outside our region. We do have some players who were born or have lived abroad. In those cases, they are from families who have relocated to this area for non-soccer reasons, say, a parent’s job, or something like that.
OaM: A few years ago, the Real Salt Lake Academy discussed being a "selling Academy" and attempting to attain compensation for players that leave for other clubs. Has the Red Bulls Academy pursued the idea of securing compensation for players that leave the Academy or do MLS and NCAA rules make this idea a non-starter?
BM: Under current MLS, U.S. Soccer, and U.S. Labor Laws, this is not possible.